In scarcely more time than it takes to tell it, the boys had possessed themselves of their guns, flashlights, overcoats, hats, and “a bite to eat on the run,” and were dashing out along the path leading down to the road that skirted the foothill to the southward. Presently, however, they slowed down to a “dog trot” at the suggestion of Clifford Long, who warned his fellow Scouts against “tuckering themselves out.”
They continued along in this manner half a mile and then, by common consent, reduced their pace to a walking long stride. As they proceeded thus, Ernie said to Clifford Long and one or two others nearest him:
“I’m afraid we’ve made a mistake in not doing one thing that has just occurred to me. What I ought to have done was to hurry home, got the automobile and made a race for the police station while you boys made this trip. In that way we could ’ave had a double chance of catching those bandits. If everything had gone smoothly, I might even have beaten you boys to the scene of the hold-up with an auto load of police. I could ’ave left word, too, for someone to call up Mr. Stanlock’s office and warn him, if by any cause he had been delayed.”
“I don’t think much of that suggestion,” replied Clifford; “for, if they haven’t got him started by this time, they’re not likely to get him going their way tonight. But the other’d ‘a’ been a good one. It’s too bad you didn’t think of it sooner.”
“Too late now,” said Ernie. “We’ve got to make the best of it.”
“Who do you suppose those two men are that we saw come out of the cave?” Miles Berryman inquired.
“The chances are ninety-nine out of a hundred that this affair is connected directly with the strike,” Clifford replied, with confident assurance. “The highwaymen who plotted this scheme doubtless belong to the rougher element of the strikers. They are really dangerous men, and the community would be much safer if they were lodged in prison.”
“How do you suppose they got your uncle to come away out here at the time when he usually starts home for dinner—that is, if he really came this way?” asked Hal Ettelson.
“That’s the very thing that’s bothering me most,” Clifford replied, with puzzled air. “Uncle is usually pretty shrewd, and I am pretty certain that people who try to put anything over on him generally find that they have a hard job on their hands.”
“I’d take it, from the note Jerry found, that this is a decoy game they’re trying to work,” Ernie remarked.
“It’d have to be a sharp one to get my uncle,” declared Clifford. “He’s a very clever business man.”
“The smartest men get caught once in a while,” was Ernie’s sage remark.
“That must have been a chauffeur who wrote that note,” observed Johnny St. John. “It read as if a chauffeur was the brains of this plot. If we get there on time, he won’t have much to chauffeur it” (show for it).